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BLOOMINGTON — Candidates for mayor and city council seats in Bloomington and Normal, Normal Township supervisor, the local school boards and the Heartland Community College board expressed support for public employee collective bargaining, prevailing-wage laws and project labor agreements at a forum Wednesday night at the Laborers' International Local 362 hall.

Nearly every candidate for the city offices cited economic development as a vital issue that their city should work on.

Nine candidates for the April 4 elections missed the forum and three who were unable to attend sent written responses to questions that had been provided in advance.

Each of the 29 candidates who spoke was given three minutes for their presentation. About 75 people attended the two-hour event.

Several candidates took the opportunity to talk about their own experiences either growing up in a family with union workers or being union members themselves at some point.

Gary Lambert, one of four candidates for alderman in Bloomington's Ward 3, was the only candidate to express some reservations about public employee collective bargaining.

Instead, Lambert replied, “yes and no,” saying, without elaboration, “We're getting to a position that's not sustainable.”

Incumbent Ward 3 Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe said he supported public collective bargaining “unequivocally.”

The other two Ward 3 candidates, J Balmer and Bob Clay, were not present.

All candidates who spoke supported project labor agreements. These are agreements between a governmental unit and local construction union on a specific project that states all workers will come through local union hiring halls and the unions agree there will be no disputes during the project.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said such agreements are an “efficient way to do large projects,” noting that one was used with the construction Uptown Station.

His challenger in the mayoral race, Marc Tiritilli, also expressed support for such agreements, saying, “I truly believe that the union workers are the highest skilled.”

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said growing the local economy and promoting economic development are “absolutely critical” in Bloomington. He and Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Lower won Tuesday's primary to advance to the April 4 vote for mayor, but Lower sent a message saying was detained at work and could not attend.

School board candidates expressed opposition to “privatizing” schools.

In the only partisan election, Republican Cheryl Gaines is facing Democrat Sarah Grammer for Normal Township supervisor.

Gaines said the Activity and Recreation Center, which is aimed at senior citizens, is a vital program that needs to be retained. She said seniors who are isolated tend to get depressed and their health deteriorates.

Grammer said “support for vulnerable residents” is an important responsibility of the township.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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